This table started the way many of my pieces start; with a deadline and a vague idea. I had purchased a beautiful, highly fingered slab of Flame Beech up in the Adirondacks a year before and the design grew out of the amount of life and movement flowing through the grain of the slab. I decided to make a sideboard so I could elevate the beech on top of a base which mirrored that organic form. For the legs I used Honey Locust from my collection. They were stripped down with a drawknife and sanded to reveal their pink and yellow flesh, the angles of their wobbly knees and muscular hips.
After a lot of awkward arranging, re-arranging and turning each branch a dozen times I settled on a stance that called to me. The legs were then numbered and angles marked. The four drawbored thru tenons were then cut and fit into the Beech. With rustic work even very traditional joinery likes this becomes extremely custom. Everything is done by eye, there are no exact formats or jigs to follow due to the nature of the organic form I’m working with. Each branch is different in size, shape and angle so the joint takes its own path to completion. Each of these joints is unique, with maple dowels running through and securing the pieces tightly into place.
After bracing each pair of legs with another locust branch I selected the material for the stretcher. I used Oriental Bittersweet Vine which is an invasive vine that chokes out many pockets of our beautiful native north eastern woods. I cut and pull it out of several local parks with permission. Shown here it is climbing in Corbett’s Glen Park before being cut. Once cut it is peeled and stored indoors where to dry. I wanted to use the vines in the base because it was an ideal place to showcase the wild tangled way they grow and twist so perfectly around themselves, and anything that gets in their way on their path to the light.
The process is quiet and contemplative and involves a lot of arranging, turning, clamping and then standing back and looking. Taking it all apart and trying different vines. Each vine gets turned upside down and backwards, rejected and then re-invited until the lines and negative spaces feel balanced, strong and peaceful. Then they are marked and slowly placed in one at time, shaking hands through coped joints with other vines and branches, creating more strength at every contact. I did not want to overwhelm any of the lines but give instead each vine the space it needed to display the unique path it had taken through space; the obstacles it wriggled around and overcame while growing.
I used chisels to carve the sharp right angles off the slab and bring it down to meet its asymmetrical base. Doing so created a highly tactile detail to run the finger tips along in passing. The slab had been air dried and has a subtle dish warp to it that I thoroughly enjoy and chose not to correct as I wanted to give a nod to the movement and growth in wood, a living material that never truly stops breathing and softly seething. Four hard maple bowtie keys were set into the slab to secure a crack running on the underside.
The chaotic messy shop space before it was deep cleaned for the finish to be applied.
Multiple coats of a high quality durable oil based top coat were applied and the legs were additionally waxed and buffed. When the oil hits the Beech and Honey Locust all of the rich tones and deep figure pop and the warmth of the wood is radiated.
Before the opening I carved a Cherry serving spoon to accompany the turrine Richard provided for the show.
The rich natural lines of Richard Aerni’s ceramics married harmoniously with the sideboard. Here in the gallery it catches the natural light coming through the windows and casts wild shadows on the gallery floor. These materials may have been caught but they will never be tame.
Stop by Main Street Arts to see Chara Dow’s furniture in our current exhibition “Setting the Table” (runs through November 25th). You can see more of Chara’s work online at www.charadowrusticworks.com.
Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by painter Cherry Rahn.